Georgia death penalty provision sees new challenge

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ATLANTA — A Georgia death row inmate on Friday filed a new challenge to the state’s requirement for defendants to prove intellectual disability beyond a reasonable doubt to be spared execution on those grounds.

Warren Lee Hill  FILE
Warren Lee Hill

The lawsuit filed in Butts County Superior Court says a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in May bolsters arguments made by Georgia death row inmate Warren Lee Hill against Georgia’s toughest in the nation “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.

The high court in 2002 barred execution of the intellectually disabled, but left to the states the determination of who is intellectually disabled.

The U.S. Supreme Court in May knocked down a Florida law that said any inmate who tests above 70 on an IQ test is not intellectually disabled and may be executed. The opinion said IQ tests have a margin of error and inmates whose scores fall within the margin must be allowed to present other evidence of intellectual disability.

Brian Kammer, a lawyer for Hill, said the high court’s ruling also “highlights the error of the Georgia standard.”

Hill’s lawyers have long argued Georgia’s high standard for proving intellectual disability is problematic because psychiatric diagnoses are subject to a degree of uncertainty that is virtually impossible to overcome.

“Medical conditions are not proven ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ in the medical world,” Kammer said, adding that the high court has shown that it “requires the states to look to medical professionals and use their agreed-upon methods for determining intellectual disability.”

Hill began showing signs of intellectual disability in childhood, and all doctors who have examined Hill now agree he’s intellectually disabled, Kammer said. Three doctors who examined Hill in 2000 and testified before the court at the time that he was not intellectually disabled have since changed their opinions. All three submitted sworn statements in February 2013 saying they had reviewed facts and documents in the case and now believe that Hill is intellectually disabled.

The state has consistently argued that Hill’s defense has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he is intellectually disabled, and Georgia’s strictest-in-the-nation standard has been upheld by state and federal courts.

The attorney general’s office had no comment on Hill’s filing, spokeswoman Lauren Kane wrote in an e-mail.

Hill was sentenced to death in Lee County for the 1990 beating death of fellow inmate Joseph Handspike. At the time Hill was already serving a life sentence for murder in the 1986 slaying of his girlfriend.

Hill has come within hours of execution on three occasions, most recently in July 2013.

Each time, a court has stepped in at the last minute and granted a delay based on challenges raised by his lawyers. Only one of those challenges was related to his intellectual abilities, and it was later dismissed. There is no date scheduled for Hill’s execution at this time.

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hoptoad 08/30/14 - 08:35 am
This man has committed at

This man has committed at least two murders and is still alive? He should be put to death instead of left for taxpayers to care for.

He may not have all his faculties in tact, and he has (or should have) no chance of ever being a productive citizen. This distinction between mentally disabled and supposedly sane is ridiculous. One or two points on the scale makes the difference between knowing right from wrong, good from bad?

nocnoc 08/30/14 - 10:12 am
Why just have a the following:

A Death sentence that uses the same process the Murderer used to kill his victim.

I wasn't too cruel for the murderer to use, so why not apply the same method to the Murderer.

itsanotherday1 08/30/14 - 12:15 pm
I have mixed feelings on the subject

One one hand, if a person is mentally incompetent to the point of not understanding right from wrong, say a schizophrenic who really believes he is satan or the like; then execution is not right. To me it is the same as putting down an undesirable animal just to get rid of them. They are still human beings, and we, as the higher species on earth, should not behave like animals in that respect. Those people should be incarcerated for their lifetimes, but not executed.

ON THE OTHER HAND.... hoptoad makes an excellent point about where that line is draw. To use an IQ score is absurd. Just because someone has a low IQ, it doesn't mean that can't discern right from wrong. As long as it is evident the perp understood they were doing wrong; stick the needle in and start pumping the juice.

corgimom 08/30/14 - 05:11 pm
He's intelligent enough to

He's intelligent enough to understand how to MURDER people, isn't he?

corgimom 08/30/14 - 05:18 pm
This SCUM was intelligent

This SCUM was intelligent enough to be in the US Navy, and work and function, and he was intelligent enough to chase after his 18 year old girlfriend and execute her!

Dixieman 08/31/14 - 12:14 pm
A modest proposal

Any lawyer (and I am one) who loses more than 10 frivolous last-minute death penalty appeals should be permanently disbarred. They are gumming up the system, preventing justice, and need to be reined in.
You want to stop the death penalty? Good, that's your right. Put your efforts and money into educating the public about your position and electing legislators who will repeal it. That's the honest and honorable path. Don't try to stop it by all these tricks and sneaky stratagems.

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